What you will learn

Academic assignments are built on scholarly evidence, so finding appropriate information is a key skill you will need to develop at university. After completing this module, you should be confident in your ability to:

  • Understand the different sources of information typically used in assignments
  • Identify key concepts from an assignment question and build an effective search strategy
  • Recognise the different search tools available and which to use to locate specific types of information

What are scholarly sources?

In academic study, you will be required to use scholarly sources (also known as academic sources) for your assignments. These are well-researched publications that have been written by academics, researchers, and other experts in a particular field of study. Their purpose is to share recent research, theories, analyses and insights, or to provide summaries of current thinking in the field.

What types of sources do I need for my assignment?

Once you are clear about your assignment brief, look for specific instructions in your assignment telling you what sources are appropriate. These will dictate what, where and how you will look for the resources you require. Below are some resource types you may be asked to find for your assignments. For other types of sources, including standards, legal material, statistics, and drug resources, see Specific resources.

Journal articles

Journal articles are scholarly sources that explore very specific topics, usually through research.

Many journal articles undergo a peer review process where the quality is checked, prior to publication. The author’s credentials are provided, allowing you to form judgements about their expertise and authority to be writing about the topic. References in the article provide supporting evidence, enabling readers to link through to related research.

Why use journal articles?

Journal articles are useful because they can provide:

  • Information about a specific topic and related research
  • Recent research findings
  • Definitions (the author will often define key concepts discussed in the article)
  • Statistics

Journal articles are usually presented in a particular format that includes an abstract (a short summary of the article’s content), methodology and a reference list. An example of a journal article is presented below:

Books and book chapters

Books are a great source for an overview of a particular topic. As they tend to be longer, books go into greater detail than other resource types and will often introduce and explain established theories, providing notable examples of research conducted in a particular field.

Why use books?

Books can provide:

  • Definitions of relevant concepts
  • Broad overview of a particular field
  • Details of key research.

See Specific resources: ebooks for tips on finding and accessing ebooks.


A report is a specific format for communicating information, usually covering the who, what, where and why of a particular issue. They are typically produced by government departments, research groups, not-for-profit organisations, companies, and others, and will communicate the context behind decision making.

You will need to exercise some caution when using certain types of reports as they may have been produced for marketing purposes and could be biased.

Why use reports?

Reports can provide:

  • Highly detailed descriptions of a particular issue, including solutions to issues
  • Information you will not find elsewhere, especially about companies
  • Statistics (particularly in reports produced by Government departments).

See Specific resources: Reports for tips on finding reports.

Newspaper articles

News and other media sources provide up-to-date reporting on events as they are occurring, providing in-the-moment, first-hand accounts of a topic. These sources report on a topic, rather than research it, so events can be documented in days, whereas journal articles and books (which communicate research) may take months or years to move through the publication process. The rapid nature of reporting may translate to bias and error, so ensure you evaluate newspaper articles carefully.

Why use newspaper articles?

Media sources are useful for images, quotations, opinions, and other primary source materials. They usually:

  • Present issues in the context of when they occurred. The way issues are discussed is likely to closely align with the feelings and opinions of the general population at a particular time
  • Seek comment or opinions from representatives of both sides of an argument, providing multiple points of view about an issue
  • Present statistics as they are released, including data related to jobs, economic outlook, health, companies and industries
  • Reflect matters that are of interest to the population they serve, whether that be the general public or a more specific audience.

See Specific resources: Newspapers and other media sources for tips on finding news and other media sources.

Now that you have an overview of what you’re looking for, go to the search strategy page to find out how to identify your keywords and develop a search strategy.